by Sarah Rubenstein
A University of Cincinnati psychiatrist who was the lead author of a 2002 study that concluded kids did well on AstraZeneca’s antipsychotic Seroquel has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company since then, according to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).
Grassley (pictured) raised the issue in a floor statement last week in support of a bill he’s co-sponsoring that would require drug and device makers with annual revenues of more than $100 million to disclose to the federal government on a quarterly basis anything of value given to physicians, such as payments, gifts, or travel expenses.
“Today, I am going to report on the actions of one physician to explain how industry payments to medical experts can affect medical practice,” Grassley said by way of introducing his remarks. Grassley then reviewed the funding for Melissa DelBello, who had reported to the University of Cincinnati that she had received $100,000 from AstraZeneca in 2003, the year after the study’s publication in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. She reported another $80,000 in 2004. The payments covered lectures, consulting fees, service on advisory boards and reimbursements for travel-related costs, Grassley said.
DelBello, who also has received NIH grants, also reported $100,000 in outside income between 2005 and 2007. But when Grassley asked AstraZeneca directly, the total value of its payments to DelBello during those three years came to $238,000.
“The fact that a physician can promote a drug to other doctors and receive NIH funding, while hiding a very clear conflict of interest, is disturbing,” Grassley concluded.
A spokesman for the university said it applauds Grassley’s “looking into this very important issue,” adding that the university has cooperated fully. DelBello didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment. The university said she was taking care of patients and wasn’t available.
In a statement, a spokesman for AstraZeneca said partnerships with doctors “can play an important role in advancing learning and the full exchange of information.” The company’s policies require payments to doctors to be “reasonable” and prohibit them from acting as an “inducement” to prescribe or use the company’s products.